Posts Tagged ‘Map’


February 04, 2015
Owen, Copperas and Winch Ponds

A winter trifecta

Owen, Copperas, and Winch ponds offer skiers and snowshoers an escape into wilderness just a short drive from Lake Placid.

By Phil Brown

The view across frozen Copperas Pond toward Whiteface Mountain is one of the scenic highlights of the trip. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

The view across frozen Copperas Pond toward Whiteface Mountain is one of the scenic highlights of the trip.
Photo by Nancie Battaglia

It’s little wonder that Owen, Copperas, and Winch ponds are popular hiking destinations in summer: for little effort, you can walk through quiet woods to visit these pretty ponds, take in some nice scenery, and perhaps go for a swim—all just a few miles from downtown Lake Placid.

Well, it turns out the ponds (or two of them, anyway) are popular in winter, too. Mostly, the visitors are snowshoers, but the trail can be skied if there is enough snow (at least a foot) and if you can handle the few short downhills.

There are two trailheads along Route 86 for the ponds. If you’re skiing, you want to start from the southern one, which is closer to Lake Placid. The trail from the northern trailhead is too steep and rocky to recommend for skiing.

I skied to the ponds on a Monday in March four days after a big snowfall. Snowshoers had packed down the snow into a trough, with heavy powder on the sides. Given that the trail doesn’t see a lot of skiers, this was expected. A trough is not ideal for skiing, but it’s manageable if you use caution and employ a few tricks.

From the register, I followed the trail (marked by blue disks) up an easy grade for a short distance, then descended to the outlet of Owen Pond. I stopped to inspect animal tracks that crossed the frozen brook and concluded they were bobcat, but that was just an educated guess.

After another short ascent, through a stand of hemlocks, I descended to Owen Pond, about a half-mile from the register. I continued skiing a short distance until I came to a path leading to the shore. From an opening in the cedars, I could see a snow-covered slide on an unnamed peak next to Kilburn Mountain. I have climbed that bedrock scar many times and looked down upon Owen Pond; it was nice to change perspectives.

One advantage of doing the trip in winter is that you can ski onto the ponds (assuming the ice is safe) for more expansive views of the surrounding mountains. From the middle of Owen, I had a clear view to the east of Stewart Mountain, a 3,615-foot peak in the Sentinel Range. I also saw more wildlife tracks.

Back on the trail, I continued skiing parallel to the north shore for a few hundred yards. The trail then veered left, away from the pond, climbed a small hill, and descended to a stand of dead trees. As I paused to admire the scene, I heard and then spotted a woodpecker—probably a hairy woodpecker, judging from its size and the red spot on its head.

Next up was the biggest hill of the day, a 0.2-mile climb over a ridge separating Owen and Copperas ponds. It wasn’t the climb I was worried about; it was the descent on the return. It would entail a few tricky turns, made trickier by the narrow trough. Given the dense powder, I didn’t think I’d be able to snowplow or make turns along the trough to slow down. So I prepared the trail by sidestepping up the hill, making it wide enough for stem turns and half-snowplows.

At the top, I could see Whiteface Mountain through the bare trees. I now faced a short descent to Copperas Pond—less than a tenth of a mile. If conditions are right, you could shoot down the trail. I played it safe by turning off the trail, stopping, and then getting back on the trail for the last bit of downhill.

A minute later, I came to an opening in the trees that afforded a spectacular view across Copperas Pond of Whiteface Mountain, the scenic highlight of the trip. If you don’t intend to go to Winch Pond, you can cross Copperas here to visit the lean-to on the opposite shore. The round-trip from the highway to the lean-to is only three miles.

Those going to Winch Pond can continue on the trail, but if you’re on skis, I suggest traveling on the pond to its southeast corner and then getting back on the trail. This avoids an annoying little hill.

The trail to Winch Pond sees little traffic in winter. Photo by Phil Brown

The trail to Winch Pond sees little traffic in winter.
Photo by Phil Brown

Just past the end of the pond, I arrived at an unmarked junction. From here, the blue trail continues to follow the Copperas shoreline to the lean-to. However, I turned right onto a trail marked by yellow disks that leads to Winch Pond about a half-mile away. Perhaps not surprisingly, this trail had not been broken in, for Winch is the smallest and least scenic of the three ponds.

In 0.35 miles, after a few easy ups and downs, I reached another junction. The way left led to the northern trailhead. I bore right to stay on the yellow trail and soon came to Winch. Skiing onto the ice, I found a good view of Stewart Mountain’s snowy summit. I saw bobcat tracks again and followed them to a hidden wetland populated by spectral trees, including a giant dead pine. Along the way I also came across a hole in the snow—perhaps made by a beaver.

Leaving Winch, I followed my tracks back to Copperas Pond. As mentioned, the blue trail parallels the shore, but it’s easier to ski across the pond to reach the lean-to. The structure is in good shape, ideal for a lunch stop. From the shore, you have a view of 3,881-foot Kilburn Mountain to the south. (Both Kilburn and Stewart are among the Adirondacks’ hundred highest peaks.)

Time to head home. Crossing the pond, I enjoyed one last look at Stewart before picking up the trail I had come in on. Soon I was back at the height of land between Copperas and Owen. Thanks to my trail grooming, I was able to stem my skis on the descent. Nevertheless, when I started picking up speed, I pulled off and stopped. I’m glad I did for a snowshoer was coming up the hill. I skied down to her and stopped again, then continued on my way.

When I reached Owen, I got off the trail to ski on the pond to enjoy the scenery again. After the pond, I faced two more descents on the trail. Both were easier than the first one, but I nevertheless kept one ski in the powder beside the trough to control my speed. (Another technique, which I did not employ, is to hold both ski poles together and drag them in the snow.)

I hope my emphasis on downhill perils won’t frighten away skiers. Not including detours, my round-trip was 4.5 miles. For the vast majority of the time, I was skiing terrain that was flat or nearly so. The descents are short enough that a cautious skier with intermediate skills should be able to manage them. I suppose a less-experienced skier could manage, too, by sidestepping most of the way down the small hills.

Of course, there are always snowshoes. Whatever your mode of travel, these ponds offer an easy getaway into the wild, in winter as well as summer.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

My location
Get Directions

February 04, 2015
Chouinard’s Gully

Chills and thrills

The Adirondack Park’s frozen cliffs offer some of the best ice climbing in the country.

By Phil Brown

Don Mellor starts up the second pitch of Chouinard’s Gully. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

Don Mellor starts up the second pitch of Chouinard’s Gully.
Photo by Nancie Battaglia

The Adirondack Park has thousands of rock-climbing routes, many of them stellar, but it will never rival such climbing destinations as Yosemite Valley in California, New River Gorge in West Virginia, or the Shawangunks in downstate New York.

Bugs, mud, moss, lichen—let’s face it, our cliffs can be manky. But come winter, they turn white and, in many places, silvery blue. And so when it comes to ice climbing, the Adirondacks are hard to beat.

“We’re the real deal nationally. We’ve got water, so we’re better than out west,” observes Don Mellor, the author of Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide.

Don and I are at the Ausable Inn in Keene Valley, where we gathered for beers after he took me on my first ice climb—the famous Chouinard’s Gully overlooking a frozen Chapel Pond. As if to prove Don’s point, three other ice climbers take seats next to us at the bar, and in due course we learn that they drove here from Maryland.

Phil Brown, left, and Don Mellor get ready to climb. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

Phil Brown, left, and Don Mellor get ready to climb.
Photo by Nancie Battaglia

That’s 450 miles. Maybe I have been missing out on something. Despite living in the Adirondacks for fifteen years, I had always shunned ice climbing. I didn’t see the appeal of standing in the cold waiting for your partner to claw his way up a giant icicle. No, I preferred to ski in the backcountry and let gravity work for me.

It’s a good plan, but flawed in one respect: it requires snow. If you’ll remember, we had little of that most of last winter. And so, at age fifty-nine, I took up ice climbing.

You might think this another flawed plan, but at least I had brains enough to ask Mellor to show me the ropes.He’s been climbing, both ice and rock, in the Adirondacks for nearly four decades.

We meet at a pull-off beside Chapel Pond and soon are joined by the photographer Nancie Battaglia (who happens to be Don’s neighbor in Lake Placid). As we walk across the pond, Don points to a wide ribbon of snow and ice cleaving the cliff on the opposite shore. This is Chouinard’s Gully, one of the Park’s most popular winter climbs.

If you’re an ice climber, you should have heard of Yvon Chouinard. He revolutionized the sport when he started manufacturing ice axes with drooped picks, a design that enabled climbers to ascend steep ice with much greater facility. Legend has it he introduced his newfangled tools in the Adirondacks in 1969 on a weekend outing with the American Alpine Club.

“There’s no bigger ice-climbing icon than Chouinard,” Mellor tells me. “We’re really proud that he came to our place and climbed. It’s a cool piece of history.”

The gully above Chapel Pond is one of the routes Chouinard is credited with climbing that weekend. At three hundred feet long, it’s usually done in three or four stages, or pitches, making it one of the lengthier ice climbs in the Adirondacks—with some nice views of Chapel Pond Pass as you ascend.

What’s more, it’s only moderately difficult, or as Don puts it, “a multi-pitch route that is accessible to mortals.”
All this—its moderate grade, its length, its history, and its accessibility—explains the gully’s popularity. Don has climbed it more times than he can count, but he’s not one to gush over it. “I don’t think it’s a great route. It has a cool little headwall at the bottom and a boring snowfield in the middle,” he remarks.

Nevertheless, Mellor describes Chouinard’s Gully in Blue Lines as “justifiably the most traveled multi-pitch route in the region.” Certainly for a novice like me, it offers plenty of excitement.

One of the cool things about climbing ice is that a capable beginner, if led by someone experienced, can tackle a moderate route like Chouinard’s without much trouble. On rock, you climb with the holds you’re given, whereas on ice you create your own holds—by sticking the picks of your tools and the front points of your crampons into the ice. There is an art to deftly placing picks, but even a novice can manage, especially if making use of holes left by previous climbers.

When skiing, I wear mittens for maximum warmth, but Don suggests I wear gloves for climbing. I’ll need the extra dexterity for belaying, holding ice axes, and removing ice screws. He hands me a spare pair. They’re not the fancy high-tech gloves you see in gear shops. Rather, they’re lined leather work gloves.

Don sets off on the first pitch and soon disappears over a ledge. When the rope stops pulling I know he’s reached the end of the pitch. After setting up an anchor and putting me on belay, he pulls the rope snug. Now it’s my turn.

The first thirty feet or so of Chouinard’s is easy, low-angle ice leading to the “cool little headwall” on the left. It’s about ten feet high and nearly vertical. I plant my axes above my head, kick the front points of my right crampon into the ice, and step upward. Then I kick in my left crampon and step up again. It doesn’t seem that hard, but after a few steps, I lose my balance and fall. When I hit the base of the wall, the rope goes taut. Don has caught me.

With Phil belaying, Dan Plumley ascends the first pitch of Roaring Brook Falls near St. Huberts. Photo by Seth Lang

With Phil belaying, Dan Plumley ascends the first pitch of Roaring Brook Falls near St. Huberts.
Photo by Seth Lang

“Testing the belay system?” he asks.

I am unhurt but feel stupid for falling. On my second try, I scale the headwall without trouble and clamber onto a snowy shelf. From here it’s easy climbing, partly on snow, partly on ice. Along the way, I remove ice screws that Don had placed for protection (clipping the rope to each screw as he ascended). Upon reaching Don, I tie into the anchor. He constructed it by embedding two screws deep into hard ice and clipping a nylon sling to them; it seems strong enough to hold a bus.

My hands are freezing. It’s a cold afternoon, and we are in the cliff’s shadow. But part of the problem, I suspect, is that I held the axes in a death grip during the climb—a common rookie mistake. Squeezing the axes may provide psychological security, but it inhibits blood flow.

Fortunately, Don climbs fast, so I am not standing around long. We move quickly on the second and third pitches. Neither pitch has an obstacle as formidable as the headwall, although there are a few bulges that demand thoughtful placement of picks and points. By the end of the route, I feel like I’m getting the hang of it. I must have loosened the death grip, as my hands are no longer cold when I catch up to Don, who is tethered to a cedar tree.

“Good job,” he says, and that’s praise enough.

Although it’s possible to hike back down, the descent route is a bit long. Instead, Don ties two ropes together and sets up a rappel. It takes us two raps to reach the base of the climb.

When we get to the Ausable Inn, I pepper Don with questions. He started ice climbing decades ago, wearing hiking boots and strap-on crampons. He has since climbed innumerable routes in the Adirondacks and elsewhere, including Newfoundland, which he described as “exotic and big and unexplored—the coolest ice I’ve done.”

Mellor is an English teacher at Northwood School in Lake Placid, but in his spare time, he teaches ice-climbing clinics and works as a guide. He once taught a clinic attended by Jim McCarthy, a legendary climber from the Shawangunks and the very guy who is said to have been on the other end of the rope when Chouinard climbed Chouinard’s Gully. When Don learned that McCarthy, then in his seventies, had signed up for his clinic, he thought to himself: “There’s something wrong with this movie. Jim McCarthy is paying me to get instruction.” He took his pupil up Chouinard’s, but McCarthy did not recall the route.

Despite all the time spent on ice, Mellor prefers rock climbing. “It’s more nuanced, more subtle,” he says. “And it’s safer. With rock climbing it’s: can you do the route? With ice climbing it’s: would you do that route?”

Don Mellor rappels down Chouinard’s Gully. Photo by Phil Brown

Don Mellor rappels down Chouinard’s Gully.
Photo by Phil Brown

Ice climbers must deal with dangers unique to their sport. Since it’s not always possible to put in an ice screw, climbers often are forced to “run out” the route—that is, ascend far above the last piece of protection.

“A leader has to not fall,” Don says. “Unlike rock climbing, you’re usually a long way from your last protection. Even when you’re trying to be cautious, you face a fatal fall.”

What’s more, there is no guarantee that an ice screw will hold a fall. And sometimes the ice itself fails. Several years ago, a climber died at Poke-O Moonshine Mountain when the ice he was on broke away from the cliff.

The best ice climbers, Don says, tend to be brawny and bold. “They don’t have self-doubt. If something goes wrong, it’s so bad,” he adds.

Although it’s only January, Don says many of the region’s best routes are “pegged out”—pockmarked with holes from crampons and axes. The holes make it easier to follow a route, but of course that means the challenge is diminished. In some cases, Don says, it’s like climbing a ladder. He is already thinking ahead to the rock-climbing season. “I get to springtime, I get to March, it’s like: I made it.”

 

The ice bible

Don Mellor’s Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide ($25.95)

Don Mellor’s Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide ($25.95)

Don Mellor’s Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide ($25.95) is the standard guidebook for winter climbers. Published in 2005 it includes a foreword by Jeff Lowe, a celebrated climber, and describes 350 routes. Mellor hopes to publish a second edition next year with a foreword by Steve House, another world-class climber. The new book will describe about six hundred routes, many outside the High Peaks region, the traditional destination of ice climbers. It will be published by the Mountaineer, the outdoors shop in Keene Valley.

The book uses the New England Ice system to grade the difficulty of climbs. The ratings are defined in the book as follows:

NEI 1: easy, low-angled, yet still warranting a rope for weak climbers.

NEI 2: harder, low-angled ice, climbable without front-pointed crampons.

NEI 3: some steeper, even vertical sections, but never strenuous on the arms.

NEI 4: steep and fatiguing, with vertical and near vertical sections up to 50 feet. For the leader there’s a big gap here: on 3’s one can sink screws from a comfortable stance. On 4’s one needs to place screws from strenuous positions.

NEI 5: very sustained vertical ice, often several pitches in length.

Note: Some especially hard climbs might be rated NEI 6.  “On many of the routes, 5’s can become 6’s (and vice versa) in thin conditions,” Mellor writes.

4 classic ice climbs

Don Mellor’s favorite moderate ice routes include Roaring Brook Falls, the Cascade, Multiplication Gully, and Chapel Pond Slab. After going up Chouinard’s Gully with Don, I climbed the other routes with Dan Plumley, who lives in Keene. Dan led all four routes in the following order:

Roaring Brook Falls, 350 feet, NEI 3+
This is the large waterfall on Giant Mountain visible on the right when you drive down the big hill from Chapel Pond to St. Huberts on Route 73. In summer it’s a fun rock climb, but it’s perhaps better known as an ice climb. Dan and I did it in three pitches, but the second pitch was so easy (mostly a walk) that we didn’t bother to place protection. On the first and third pitches, we climbed straight up the falls, listening to the water cascading behind the ice. For me, the hardest part was near the top of the last pitch where I twisted awkwardly to squeeze through a narrow chute. After finishing, we walked down the hiking trail back to our car.

The Cascade 250 feet, NEI 2
The Cascade in question is the waterfall between the two Cascade Lakes. This is the easiest of the four routes. It’s normally done in two pitches, but Dan and I did just one pitch. Evidently, we stopped a little short of the usual end. Despite the easy rating, several bulges on the route will test the novice climber. At the top we found a rappel anchor: someone drilled two holes in the ice that joined at an angle and then threaded a strand of nylon webbing through the little tunnel. However, we could not have reached the bottom in one rappel with our rope, so we traversed into the woods and rappelled off trees.

Multiplication Gully 225 feet, NEI 3+
This classic route ascends a narrow gash in High Falls Crag in Wilmington Notch (on the south side of Route 86). To get to the base, we followed a packed trail over snow-covered talus. There are two pitches. The first has a few bulges that must be surmounted, but the second is the money pitch, as it’s both longer and harder. At one point, I had to squeeze up a sort of chimney, with my back against the wall. We made things more difficult by getting a late start and finishing in the dark. Dan had climbed Multi Gully in his youth and was so psyched to have done it again that he bought me dinner.

Chapel Pond Slab 700 feet, NEI 2-3
Don’t be fooled by the easy-to-moderate rating: this is a bold and risky climb. A lot can happen in seven hundred feet. Mellor’s book warns of avalanches sloughing off the slab and water spouting from holes made by ice axes. Conditions will vary from winter to winter and week to week. When we did the route (in five pitches), there was a tricky traverse where the thinness of the ice made it difficult to place ice screws. One of the cruxes is a six-foot wall high on the slab. Be prepared for a long descent through the woods once you finish, including some low-angle rappels.

My location
Get Directions

February 04, 2015
Lake Andrew

Taking a new hike

Purchase of MacIntyre West Tract opens up Lake Andrew as a destination, though the state has yet to mark the route.

By Phil Brown

Lake Andrew lies near the base of Santanoni Peak, whose Twin Slides are visible in the middle of the photograph. Photo by Carl Heilman II

Lake Andrew lies near the base of Santanoni Peak, whose Twin Slides are visible in the middle of the photograph.
Photo by Carl Heilman II

After writing about the state’s acquisition of the MacIntyre West Tract for the last issue of the Explorer, I was eager to explore it, and Lake Andrew seemed like the logical place to start.

In early December, my friend Carol and I hiked the 4.7 miles to the lake and, on the way back, took a side trip to a spectacular view of the Twin Slides on Santanoni Peak.

Although the state has yet to mark any trails on the tract, getting to Lake Andrew is pretty straightforward: we followed well-maintained logging roads for four miles and then followed a skid road for the remaining seven-tenths of a mile.

The state bought the 5,770-acre tract from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy last year and opened it to the public on October 1. It was the latest phase of a multi-year plan to acquire sixty-five thousand acres formerly owned by the Finch, Pruyn paper company. The state expects to buy a companion tract, MacIntyre East, by the end of March. That purchase will greatly improve paddlers’ access to the Hudson and Opalescent rivers.

If you want to explore MacIntyre West, you should be comfortable hiking on roads and trails that lack markers and that may not appear on maps. Also, be aware that the tract still has twenty-eight hunting camps owned by sportsmen’s clubs. The clubs must dismantle the camps by September 30, 2018, but until then the lessees have exclusive use of one-acre parcels around the buildings and they can drive to their camps.

Carol Fox poses near a homemade sign that points the way to Lake Andrew. Photo by Phil Brown

Carol Fox poses near a homemade sign that points the way to Lake Andrew.
Photo by Phil Brown

Although Carol and I hiked to Lake Andrew, we could have skied on the logging roads. There were only a few inches of dense snow, but that would have been enough. The skid road that leads to the lake needs at least a few inches more to be skiable.

A cross-country tour to Lake Andrew would be a great trip for a novice skier since the roads are wide and smooth. And there are some fun downhills on the return trip. Altogether, you gain 630 feet in the 4.7 miles between the trailhead and the lake. In comparison, the ski trip up the gravel road to Lower Ausable Lake entails a gain of 650 feet over 4.1 miles.

However, Lake Andrew is unlikely to be as popular a destination as Lower Ausable, so skiers probably will need to break trail. If the snow is deep, this could be a chore. Even if you don’t like breaking trail, you can keep Lake Andrew in mind for ski trips early in the season or in low-snow years.

The parking area for Lake Andrew is off Tahawus Road in Newcomb. It’s the same one used by hikers going to Bradley Pond or Santanoni Peak. (Lake Andrew is not mentioned on the trailhead sign.) The first part of the logging road—which is gated—is shared by these hikers and marked by blue trail disks.

On the Friday morning of our trip, there was one other car in the lot. The occupants had bare-booted up the logging road. As Carol and I followed in their footsteps, we also saw the tracks of other visitors—snowshoe hare and bobcat, perhaps one in pursuit of the other.

At 1.1 miles, the road crossed a dark stream winding through a snowy wetland, its grasses and shrubs coated with frost. To the north-northeast, we saw a large peak that I suppose was MacNaughton Mountain. Although it reaches four thousand feet, MacNaughton did not make the list of the forty-six High Peaks because the list was drawn up before its height was known.

A little beyond the wetland we caught a glimpse through the trees of the Twin Slides—the first of many views of these bedrock scars on Santanoni’s east slope.

At 1.8 miles, we arrived at a junction with a foot trail. Here the hikers who were ahead of us had turned right to follow the blue markers, while Carol and I continued up the road. A hundred yards on, we reached a bridge over a large stream that is a tributary to Santanoni Brook, which flows into Henderson Lake, the source of the Hudson River. A big sign warned: “Go Back. No Trail Access Beyond Here.” Knowing the sign to be no longer operative, we ignored it and crossed the bridge.

For much of the way, the road parallels a tributary of Santanoni Brook. Photo by Phil Brown

For much of the way, the road parallels a tributary of Santanoni Brook.
Photo by Phil Brown

The road paralleled the stream on our left. At 2.2 miles, we came to a vehicle barrier and another no-trespassing sign at the boundary of the MacIntyre West Tract. Again we kept going and in less than a quarter-mile reached a junction with another good road that veered right and up a hill. We bore left and continued to walk beside the stream. Carol remarked on the beauty and serenity of the hike.

“It’s nice to walk along the brook,” she said. “I love the sound.”

Almost three miles from the trailhead, we passed the first hunting camp, a squat, rustic building with a front porch sitting right next to the road. The road descended, then started climbing again—gradual grades, ideal for ski touring. We started to regret that we didn’t bring our skis.

“It’s perfect for skiing,” Carol remarked. “What a blast. I think we should come back.”

All this time we had been following bobcat tracks. We marveled at the efficiency of the feline’s gait: it generally hewed to a straight line, putting its hind paws into the prints left by its front paws. At 3.2 miles, the bobcat veered left onto a narrow skid road, while we stayed on the main road.

After 3.3 miles, we reached a T-intersection near a cluster of hunting camps. We suspected the road coming from the right was a continuation of the road we had passed a mile or so earlier. We would test this theory on our return.

Turning left, we soon came to another junction at 3.6 miles. Up until here we had been hiking primarily west or southwest. After turning left, we now headed southeast. We passed more hunting camps, including one with a marvelous view of Santanoni.

“Wow, it just gets better,” Carol remarked of the scenery.

The maintained road came to an abrupt end at 4.0 miles. We picked up a rough skid road on the right and followed it uphill, crossing three bridges, to a small clearing at 4.2 miles. Here we saw two trails, one going straight, the other going right. Although the trail on the right looked in better shape, the other was marked by a crude wooden sign on which someone had written “Lk Andrew.” So that’s the one we took.

Except for some blowdown in a wet area, the trail was easy to follow. It ascended to a junction with a trail coming from the right. (We wondered if it was the continuation of the other trail we had seen in the clearing.) Veering left, we hiked along a flat, muddy section. Finally, at 4.7 miles, we came to a short path leading to the northwest shore of Lake Andrew, where we found a rowboat and small dock.

The sixteen-acre lake lies below Mount Andrew. Directly across the lake was a hunting camp. Except for the camp, dock, and rowboat (all of which will eventually be removed), the lake appeared to be as wild as it ever was. The surface had frozen, but it was too early in the season to test the ice, and so we were left wondering what views are to be enjoyed from the middle of the lake.

We concluded that Lake Andrew would be a fine place to camp in the summer. “It’s like a little jewel,” Carol said. “I like the quiet, and we didn’t see a soul.”

After a snack, we started back. Soon enough we were back on the main road at the T-intersection near the camps. Instead of turning right and retracing our steps, we went straight, thinking this road might reconnect with our route. The road curved left and then started a long, gradual uphill, gaining more than a hundred feet. Although the road didn’t seem to be heading in the right direction, we followed it a half-mile to its end: a clearing with an in-your-face view of Santanoni Peak and the Twin Slides. The view was nice enough that it’s a worthy destination in itself for skiers who want to stick to good roads. The descent from the clearing would be a blast.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

DIRECTIONS: From Northway Exit 29, drive west on County 2 for 17.8 miles to County 25. Take a right and go 6.4 miles to a junction. Turn left to stay on County 25 and go 2.0 miles to a trailhead sign on the left. Turn here for the parking area.

My location
Get Directions

November 18, 2014
St. Regis Mountain

An old favorite in winter

If you’re heading up St. Regis Mountain, bring your skis and your snowshoes.

By Phil Brown 

The author poses on the trail with Becky and Joe. Photos by Nancie Battaglia

The author poses on the trail with Becky and Joe.
Photos by Nancie Battaglia

Last winter, my daughter Becky and her fiancé, Joe, wanted to climb one of the Saranac Lake 6, so we snowshoed up St. Regis Mountain.

Although I like St. Regis—with its marvelous views of ponds and lakes—I am not an enthusiastic snowshoer. I mean, snowshoeing is OK, but I like cross-country skiing a whole lot more.

As we walked through the woods, I kept thinking, “This would be a great ski trail.” The terrain is gentle enough that on our way off the mountain we encountered a guy in MicroSpikes running up the mountain.

Becky and Joe, though, thoroughly liked the snowshoe trip.

“It was a foggy day, but I still enjoyed the view,” Becky emailed me afterward. “I thought the fire tower on top of the mountain was cool, and I liked how the summit was a big open area that provided for panoramic views.”

The next week, I returned with my skis. Although the snow was a bit sticky after a recent rain, most of the trail proved to be eminently suitable for intermediate skiers and even novices with some experience and good judgment. My advice is to ski as far as you feel comfortable and switch to snowshoes for the final ascent.

The journey begins at a parking area on Keese Mills Road west of Paul Smiths. Ski down a private road for a tenth of a mile, then turn right onto the trail. In another quarter-mile, just past a kettle pond, the trail bends right and starts the first of several easy climbs.

At 1.3 miles from the parking area, the trail descends briefly and then levels. After another gradual climb, you glide down to a bridge at 2.3 miles.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Beyond the bridge, the climbing becomes harder, so novices may choose to put on their snowshoes here. Experienced skiers, however, can keep their boards on for a while longer.

The trail ascends steadily but not overly steeply for three tenths of a mile, then makes a short dip. You then face a steeper hill. Although skiing down this trail on the return might seem daunting, you don’t have to jettison the skis just yet: the woods are open enough that on the descent you can control your speed by traversing back and forth.

When you reach the top of the hill, assuming you’ve kept your boards on, you’ll have another quarter-mile or so of easy skiing. Thereafter, the trail steepens considerably, and all but ace skiers should switch to snowshoes. But if you’ve made it this far—roughly three miles—you have less than a half-mile to the summit.

At 2,874 feet, St. Regis is one of the smaller of the Saranac Lake 6 peaks. If you climb all six, the village of Saranac Lake will issue you a commemorative patch. All of the peaks are located a short drive from the village.

The views from St. Regis are superb. You see ponds in the St. Regis Canoe Area, the St. Regis Lakes, and in the distance the High Peaks and other mountains. There is a fire tower, but until it’s rehabilitated, it remains closed to the public.

A solitary snowshoer reaches the 2,874-foot summit of St. Regis Mountain. Photos by Nancie Battaglia

A solitary snowshoer reaches the 2,874-foot summit of St. Regis Mountain.
Photos by Nancie Battaglia

The vista is worth the trip whether you ski, snowshoe, or do some of both. If you like snowshoeing, by all means leave the skis at home.

My location
Get Directions

November 18, 2014
Goodman Mountain

Tribute to slain activist

State dedicates new trail on Tupper Lake peak to Andrew Goodman, who was murdered during the Freedom Summer in Mississippi.

By Phil Brown

A crowd gathers on Goodman Mountain on the day the new trail was dedicated. Photos by Nancie Battaglia

A crowd gathers on Goodman Mountain on the day the new trail was dedicated.
Photos by Nancie Battaglia

Hikers looking for a short climb to a view should check out the new trail up Goodman Mountain south of Tupper Lake.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, with the help of volunteers, created the trail this year and dedicated it to Andrew Goodman, a twenty year-old civil-rights activist murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi fifty years ago.

The slaying of Goodman and two fellow activists— James Chaney and Michael Schwerner—was dramatized in the 1988 movie Mississippi Burning starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe. The victims were helping African-Americans register to vote during Freedom Summer.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

The 1.75-mile trail leads to open bedrock on the summit of the 2,176-foot peak, offering good views to the east, south, and west. For the first 0.75 miles, the trail follows the route of an old highway (now overgrown) through the forest. It then takes a sharp left and winds around the mountain as it climbs to the summit.

The first quarter-mile of the trail is accessible to wheelchairs as the work crew simply removed dirt that had covered the old tarmac.

Once the trail leaves the old highway, it ascends gradually, often making use of switchbacks. Thus, it is suitable for casual hikers and families with young children.

The kiosk tells the story of Andrew Goodman. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

The kiosk tells the story of Andrew Goodman.
Photo by Nancie Battaglia

The Goodman family has been summering in Tupper Lake since the 1930s. When Andrew was a boy, he and his siblings and cousins often climbed the mountain. In 2002, its name was changed from Litchfield Mountain to Goodman Mountain. Bill Frenette, the late Tupper Lake historian, led the campaign for the change.

“The story of Andrew’s short but impactful life cannot be forgotten,” Joe Martens, the state’s environmental conservation commissioner, said at a
ceremony dedicating the trail in August.

A kiosk at the trailhead tells the story of Andrew Goodman’s life and murder.

DIRECTIONS: From the village of Tupper Lake, drive south on NY 30. You reach the turnoff for the trailhead on the left 7.5 miles after crossing the Raquette River (it’s 0.4 miles beyond the turn for Horseshoe Lake—NY 421—on the right side of NY 30).

 

My location
Get Directions

November 18, 2014
OK Slip Falls

A hiker arrives at the lookout for OK Slip Falls. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

A hiker arrives at the lookout for OK Slip Falls.
Photo by Nancie Battaglia

Journey to OK Slip

New trail leads to a spectacular view of one of the Adirondacks’ highest waterfalls and to the Hudson River Gorge.

By Phil Brown

Carol Fox at the lookout. Photo by Phil Brown

Carol Fox at the lookout.
Photo by Phil Brown

Carol Fox had visited OK Slip Falls three times—twice in fall, once in winter— but not on the state’s new hiking trail and never with some guy jotting down every word she said.

I advised her everything would be fine if she said clever and witty things.

Mainly, though, I wanted to get her impressions of the trail and the falls, one of the highest in the Adirondack Park. Of course, she could describe the 250-foot cascade from her earlier trips.

“I love how you turn the corner and it’s just there,” she said on our hike in. “You’re at eye level with it.”

The state bought OK Slip Falls from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy last year, but it didn’t open a trail until this past summer. The conservancy acquired the falls in 2007 when it bought all of Finch, Pruyn & Company’s 161,000 acres for $110 million. The OK Slip parcel is now part of the Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area.

Until the state purchase, the waterfall had been off limits to the general public for more than a century and had achieved an air of mystery. It’s no wonder, then, that the falls has become a popular destination. When Carol and I arrived at the parking area on a gloomy Saturday morning, there were already four or five cars even though the forecast called for rain.

We weren’t about to be deterred by the weather. As a member of the conservancy board, Carol was privileged to visit the falls before the hoi polloi, but she was excited to see the new trail. So was I, because people had been asking me if the trail is difficult. Since I’m the editor of the Adirondack Explorer, they figured I should know, and now I can tell them: it’s not.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

The round trip to the falls is six miles, with only minor changes in elevation. In fact, the trail is mellow enough that with sufficient snow cover it would be fine for skiing. The giant cataract is an impressive sight when it’s turned to ice— something to keep in mind with winter around the corner.

Hikers seeking more of a challenge can extend the outing by continuing on a second trail that goes from the falls to the Hudson River. Round trip, this adds nearly two miles. It entails a steep descent to the river and a short but stiff climb on the return. This trail seems unsuitable for skiing.

You’ll find the parking area for OK Slip Falls between the hamlets of North Creek and Indian Lake, on the south side of Route 28. From there you walk west about a third of a mile along the road shoulder to the trailhead, which is on the opposite side of the highway.Carol and I hiked both trails for a round trip of nearly eight miles. If you hike to the river during whitewater rafting season (April to October), you may see a flotilla of colorful rafts and hear lots of hooting and hollering. The rafts pass through this part of the Hudson Gorge around midday.

For the first 0.8 miles, the route coincides with an older trail, marked by red disks, that leads to Ross Pond. Except for a muddy swamp near the beginning, this trail is easy walking through a handsome forest with big trees.

Carol and I had not gone far when we saw a red squirrel on a spruce branch just above our heads, gnawing furiously on a cone and oblivious to our presence. I pulled out my notebook.

“Are you going to interview him?” Carol asked.

“Have you seen more foot traffic here in recent weeks?” I inquired, addressing the squirrel.

“What did he say?”

“He didn’t want to talk with his mouth full.”

Soon after, we came to a sign at the junction with the new trail. We turned right and followed it for 1.4 miles to a dirt road that leads to the Northern Frontier Camp, a woodsy retreat for boys on OK Slip Pond, a private in-holding.

The section of trail leading to the road winds through the woods with a few gentle ups and downs. As we walked along, I remarked on the absence of freshly cut stumps. Later, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) told me that no trees were cut for any part of the new trail. (About a dozen saplings were removed.)

At 1.6 miles from the trailhead, after crossing a stream and passing through a hemlock grove, we came to an old beaver pond that has largely drained, leaving a wet meadow. When we reached the dirt road, at 2.2 miles, a DEC sign directed us to turn left. We walked up the road for 250 feet to another sign, which directed us to turn right and re-enter the woods.

For more than a half-mile, we walked along an old woods road, now overgrown. At 2.8 miles, we veered left off the woods road onto another section of new trail and then descended in two short switchbacks to an overlook with a spectacular view of the falls.

OK Slip Brook disappears over the ledge at the top of the falls. Photo by Phil Brown

OK Slip Brook disappears over the ledge at the top of the falls.
Photo by Phil Brown

Looking across the gorge, we watched in fascination as OK Slip Brook slid off a bedrock shelf, plummeting amid evergreens in a silver ribbon. Two couples were enjoying the sight, and a third couple would arrive before we left.

There is a second outlook about seventy-five feet away. It’s not as good as the first but still worth checking out. Carol and I lingered here for a snack. As we sat, we were entertained by a chipmunk that, after several nervous sorties, finally worked up the courage to approach us.

Evidently, the fellow has come to rely partly on hikers for sustenance. Ordinarily, I don’t feed wildlife, but with winter not far off, I took pity and tossed him a crumb from my Clif bar.(Please don’t tell DEC.)

While at the outlooks be careful near the edge as the drop is long and precipitous. Parents will want to keep a sharp eye on young children. Also, take note that an informal trail that descends from the second overlook into the OK Slip gorge is closed, both for the sake of public safety and to protect natural resources.

Despite the threat of rain, Carol was game to hike to the Hudson River. The Northern Frontier Camp created this trail years before the state bought the property. All DEC did was mark it with blue disks and put up a few signs. In the future, however, the department may reroute the steeper sections.

The trail begins just before the overlooks. Leaving the junction, we crossed a small stream and then came to a junction with a trail that leads to the boys camp. It’s closed to the public. Bearing right, we descended briefly to a footbridge over OK Slip Brook. From the bridge we watched the brook as it disappeared over the ledge at the top of the falls.

After crossing the brook, the trail climbs (not steeply) for less than a quarter-mile to a height of land. During the ascent, we caught glimpses across the gorge of the overlook cliff whence we had first viewed the falls. By now, it had started to rain, but the forest canopy kept us fairly dry.

On their way to the falls, two hikers cross soggy ground on a boardwalk. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

On their way to the falls, two hikers cross soggy ground on a boardwalk.
Photo by Nancie Battaglia

The descent to the Hudson River is gradual at first but eventually becomes quite steep. The trail ends at a campsite near the mouth of OK Slip Brook, next to a nice beach and just upstream from OK Slip Rapids. Carol and I stayed long enough to watch several rafts drift downriver into the rapids.

Coincidentally, the next day we took a commercial rafting trip ourselves and stopped at the same beach. Hiking to OK Slip Falls and rafting the Hudson Gorge makes for a great weekend, but it’s possible to do both on the same day. Square Eddy Expeditions, an outfitter based in North Creek, will pick you up in a raft at the end of the Hudson River trail and take you through a number of exciting rapids en route to a takeout in the hamlet of North River. If you’re looking for full-on Adirondack adventure, this is one way to find it.

It was still raining as we hiked back to the trailhead, but we passed several people going to OK Slip Falls. Like us, they would not be deterred from seeing one of the tallest cataracts in the Adirondacks. And then it occurred to me that I had failed to elicit a purple quote on the sublimity of this magnificent landmark. I mentioned this to Carol.

“I didn’t serve a purpose on this hike if I didn’t provide a good quote,” she remarked.

“That’s OK,” I told her. “I’ll make something up.” In truth, a thousand words would not do it justice.

DIRECTIONS: If coming from the east, drive west on NY 28 about 10 miles past the first turn for North Creek and look for a parking area on the left side of the highway (a sign about a quarter- mile beforehand lets you know the parking area is coming up). If coming from the west, the parking area will be on the right 7.6 miles past the NY 28/NY30 junction in Indian Lake. From the parking area, you walk west along the highway for a third of a mile. The trail starts on the opposite side of the road.

My location
Get Directions

October 14, 2014
Grace Peak

Amazing Grace

Four hikers pay tribute to an Adirondack legend while climbing the peak newly renamed in her honor.

By Susan Bibeau

Relaxing after a tough climb, Susan Bibeau admires the view from Grace Peak. Photo by Lisa Godfrey

Relaxing after a tough climb, Susan Bibeau admires the view from Grace Peak.
Photo by Lisa Godfrey

Shortly after moving to the Adirondacks in 1996, I climbed Giant Mountain. Not only was it my first High Peak, it was the first time I’d climbed anything higher than the hill in the back yard where I grew up.

While incredibly rewarding, the hike was harder than I had imagined even though I was a fit, thirty-year-old marathon runner. It was humbling. Nevertheless, like many others before me, I was hooked on the Adirondack Mountains, and I wanted more.

"If it’s worth climbing, it’s worth writing about.” —Grace Hudowalski

“If it’s worth climbing,
it’s worth writing about.”
—Grace Hudowalski

That same year Grace Leach Hudowalski celebrated her ninetieth birthday, an occasion covered in the local papers. I’d never heard of Grace or the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, but I was smitten by the photo of her beaming with her birthday cake, proudly sporting her Forty-Sixer patch.

I did some reading and learned that in 1937, at thirty one- years old, Grace became the first woman and (ninth person overall) to summit all forty-six of the High Peaks. The last on her list was Esther Mountain, then the only one named after a woman.

The thought of this sweet little lady, the same age as my grandmother, having been the first to complete such a feat during an era when women were not encouraged to pursue outdoor activities, let alone those of physical endurance, was awe inspiring. I became an instant fan.

So I was elated this past June when the U.S. Board on Geographic Names granted the petition of the Forty- Sixers organization (made up of hikers who have climbed all the High Peaks), after years of lobbying, to change the name of East Dix to Grace Peak in her honor.

And what better way to pay tribute to my longtime hero than to climb the mountain now named after her? I couldn’t wait. In July, I rounded up three friends— Kathleen Wiley, photographer Lisa Godfrey, and Jaime Armstrong (who brought her dog Chloe)—and we set out for Grace’s summit. It seemed fitting that this should be an all-girls outing.

Chloe, Jaime, Sue, Lisa, and Kathleen take a group selfie on the summit. Photo by Lisa Godfrey

Chloe, Jaime, Sue, Lisa, and Kathleen take a group selfie on the summit.
Photo by Lisa Godfrey

At 4,012 feet, Grace is the forty-second-highest peak in the Adirondacks. It’s part of the Dix Range, which also includes South Dix, Macomb Mountain, Hough Peak, and Dix Mountain. There are several routes into the range, but the most popular if hiking Grace Peak by itself starts just off of Route 73, roughly seven miles from the hamlet of Keene Valley.

This approach follows first the North Fork and later the South Fork of the Boquet River to the base of a slide that rises to the summit. Although the trail is unmarked, it’s fairly easy to follow to the slide, as long as you make all the right turns. The first challenge is finding the crossing— a rock hop—from the south side of the North Fork to the north side. It’s about a third of a mile up the trail. Look for a cairn and on the opposite bank the continuation of the trail. (You must be vigilant so you don’t follow the southside trail beyond the crossing.) After the crossing, the trail hugs the bank above the river for a mile or so before descending to cross the North Fork again.

A cairn helps keep hikers on route. Photo by Lisa Godfrey

A cairn helps keep hikers on route.
Photo by Lisa Godfrey

Between the two crossings, I notice some beautiful purple flowers that I’ve never seen. I love identifying flora and fauna that I encounter, and today I am in luck. Kathleen is the associate director of the Watershed Stewards Program at Paul Smith’s College and Jaime is a middle-school science teacher. They know their plants.

“What are those called, Kath?” I ask.

“Those are bottle gentians,” she tells me.

Jaime points out a plant called groundcedar or crowsfoot.

“It’s actually a type of clubmoss,” she adds before explaining how the plant disperses its spores.

“I love our little group,” I remark. “Two artists and two scientists.”

Moving on, we pass a beaver meadow and, at 1.8 miles, come to a small clearing with a filtered view of the Dix Mountain ridge. The woods are quiet as we leave the rushing North Fork behind. Suddenly we hear an ovenbird’s call: teacher-teacher-teacher.

“I think he’s calling you Jaime,” I say.

After a short descent, the trail winds around a beaver pond, where we linger a bit. Kathleen identifies a few more plants, jewelweed and Clintonia. The latter is also called blue-bead lily. “The berries are very toxic,” Kathleen warns.

Just ahead we begin to hear the South Fork, and we follow the trail to a small clearing, reached at 3.2 miles, where cairns mark the crossing of a large tributary stream. We rock-hop to a point of land between the tributary and the South Fork. We soon come to a campsite with several trails radiating from it. The one we pick peters out at a swimming spot along the tributary. Backtracking, we find a small cairn. Some kind soul left a piece of wood atop the rock pile with a word carved into it. When we get close enough to read it, we all shout, “Grace!”

The trail leads us down a bank to the South Fork. The stream here is shallow and fairly narrow. Sunlight filters through the tree canopy and falls on idyllic pools and small flumes among the boulders. The path winds back and forth across the stream, with the way marked by cairns of various sizes.

Lisa stops to take a photo of a huge bright-orange mushroom.

“What type is that?” I ask Jaime.

“I don’t know my mushrooms,” she replies.

“So I probably shouldn’t eat it?”

Sue Bibeau and Kathleen Wiley take a break at the base of the slide. Photo by Lisa Godfrey

Sue Bibeau and Kathleen Wiley take a break at the base of the slide.
Photo by Lisa Godfrey

Eventually, we find ourselves climbing steeply along the South Fork. I take a look at my GPS app to see how much farther we have to go to reach the slide.

“Well, the good news is the summit is only about a mile away,” I say.

“Let me guess, there’s some climbing involved?” Lisa responds.

“One thousand feet, give or take.”

In another quarter-mile we spy the slide through the trees. We could avoid the slide by continuing on the trail to the ridge between Grace Peak and South Dix, but we all agree that the slide will be more adventurous. If it’s wet and slippery or if anyone feels uneasy, we can always bail out and return to the trail.

At first, the slide is not particularly steep. As we make our way upward, we stop every so often to look behind us at the view. Ahead we can see the rocky summit; it looks deceptively close. I wonder out loud if Grace ever climbed this slide.

The higher we go, the more the view opens up. Dix looms directly behind us, with Hough to the left. The slide also begins to get steeper. Chloe seems intimidated, and Jaime is having a hard time directing her up the rock. Lisa and I head Jaime’s way, and the three of us pass Chloe from one to another up the slide. Thankfully, she only weighs about fifteen pounds.

After a well-deserved nap on the summit, Chloe is ready to head home. Photo by Lisa Godfrey

After a well-deserved nap on the summit, Chloe is ready to head home.
Photo by Lisa Godfrey

I begin to have second thoughts about climbing the slide—not for myself but for leading my friends into a potentially precarious situation. Of the four of us, Jaime has the least experience with this kind of climbing. She’s not freaking out, but I know her well enough to realize she’s uneasy.

“If I stay calm, she’ll stay calm,” I tell myself. I position myself below her, and we talk through each placement of hands and feet.

“You’re tough, Jaime, you got this,” I say.

“Yeah, but my legs are short!” Her sense of humor is reassuring.

Lisa is now ahead of us and seems to be climbing with confidence.

“How are you doing? Are you OK?” I yell up.

“Yup, I’m OK; how about you guys?”

“We’re good!” I shout back.

The crew walks off the summit in the direction of South Dix. Photo by Lisa Godfrey

The crew walks off the summit in the direction of South Dix.
Photo by Lisa Godfrey

The slide’s headwall looks scary steep, but we can see a narrow chimney that looks to have promising holds. However, a dense thicket separates us from it. Lisa tries to find a way through, but the impenetrable krummholz stops her dead. Meanwhile, Kathleen, who evidently is part mountain goat, has been scouting above us.

“Found a path!” she yells.

“You rock, Kath!” I yell back.

Once through the bushes, we have a short, steep climb up the headwall to the open ridge. Once we make it, I give each of my friends a big hug. We had come more than five miles.

“Good job, team!” I say to my hiking buddies.

I beg forgiveness for leading us into danger, but everyone is in good spirits.

The view is a spectacular payoff for our hard work. All of the Dix Range is stretched before us. Among the scores of other peaks, we pick out Noonmark, Haystack, Giant, and, in the distance, Whiteface.

It’s dizzying to look down the slide we just ascended. Lisa asks me to stand close to the edge for a photo, but I have to sit down.

“I’m afraid of heights.” I admit.

“Seriously?” She laughs at me.

We spend almost an hour soaking in the sun, eating, chatting, and looking at the map. Chloe finds a shady spot and takes a well-deserved nap. When it’s time to go, we walk south a short distance to the true summit, from where we will descend by trail to avoid a tricky climb down the slide.

Admirers of Grace Hudowalski placed this commemorative sign on the summit. Photo by Lisa Godfrey

Admirers of Grace Hudowalski placed this commemorative sign on the summit.
Photo by Lisa Godfrey

We are delighted to find a wooden sign affixed to a large boulder identifying this as Grace Peak. It includes a quote from Grace herself: “It is not important whether you make the summit; it is important how you make the climb.”

We pose while Lisa snaps some shots.

We all reflect quietly for a bit. I’m filled with gratitude for all of the women like Grace Hudowalski who paved the way for the rest of us. I’m also grateful to be sharing this day with such a fine group of ladies.

“I’ll bet Grace would be proud,” I offer.

“I’ll bet she would.” Jaime says.

DIRECTIONS: The trailhead is on the west side of Route 73, just south of the North Fork of the Boquet River. The North Fork flows under a stone bridge about 1.5 miles north of the junction of Route 73 and Route 9. The dirt road leading in to the trailhead is washed out. Unless you have a vehicle with high clearance, plan to Park along Route 73

 

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

My location
Get Directions

October 02, 2014
Siamese Ponds Wilderness

Guidebook author shares some of his secrets of the Siamese Ponds Wilderness.

By Bill Ingersoll

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

WHEN THE STATE began creating a network of marked trails in the Adirondacks in the 1920s, it usually adopted preexisting routes, reflecting a constitutional interpretation that cutting trees would be a violation of the Forest Preserve’s forever-wild protections. A newspaper report from 1929 indicated that rangers marked almost four hundred miles of old trails that year, but cut only sixteen miles of new trails.

The Siamese Ponds Wilderness is a good example of this policy in action as nearly all of today’s state trails were created by others long ago. The main trail to the Siamese Ponds was originally a wagon road, later maintained as a trail by the Bakers Mills guide Frank Warren. The Halfway Brook trail was used by garnet miners traveling between the Hooper and Barton mines. The trail to John Pond was once a town road, and the trail up Peaked Mountain was once a herd path. Chimney Mountain’s popular trail was cut by Charles S. Carroll, who owned a summer resort at the trailhead; it was marked with Adirondack Mountain Club trail markers in 1928 by the Glens Falls chapter.

Yet a large number of traditional trails–old logging roads, farm roads, or simple herd paths—were never marked by the state. Some have remained popular despite this lack of official signage, but a few are so rarely used that it’s a joy to discover them. Others are relatively new as people continue to pioneer routes into the interior. Of course, it is never correct to cut a new trail, but tramping along some existing path is a traditional way to explore the backcountry.

Below are three unmarked trails in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness: a familiar route, a new route, and a relatively obscure route. I’ve added a trailless bushwhack that—who knows?—may one day become a herd path or even a marked trail. All are included in the latest edition of Discover the South Central Adirondacks. There is no guarantee that these footpaths will be well maintained, but finding solitude is a high probability.

Square Falls Photo by Bill Ingersoll

Square Falls
Photo by Bill Ingersoll

Square Falls & Upper Square Falls
I have heard some speculation that the ledge known as Square Falls on the East Branch of the Sacandaga River was named incorrectly, because a second waterfall located about 0.6 miles upstream appears to be more squarish. Perhaps. But rivers are agents of erosion, and the namesake square may have been an ephemeral feature that long ago vanished.

Historically, two paths have led to Square Falls; the route along the west bank was prettier, but it is no longer kept up. The east-bank trail is almost as good as an official state trail. Despite the absence of signs and markers, it is reasonably easy to locate. This route has become the favorite because no fords of the river are required.

SQUARE FALLS: This footpath begins near a large turnoff on NY 8 that is 5.6 miles from Bakers Mills and 11.6 miles from NY 30. The parking area can accommodate many times more vehicles than will ever likely be needed. It narrows near the north end, where you will find a rough driveway leading northwest into the woods. This is the start of the trail.

SHANTY CLIFFS: The path begins near Stewart Creek and the Cod Pond trailhead, which are located 8.8 miles from Bakers Mills and 8.4 miles from NY 30. Guardrails line the highway on all four corners of the bridge over the creek. At the point where the northwestern guardrail ends 0.1 miles north of the parking area, a narrow driveway leads into the woods to a campsite beside the East Branch of the Sacandaga 450 feet from the highway. The driveway is rutted and muddy, and only high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles can negotiate these obstacles. Most hikers and climbers park at the Cod Pond trailhead and walk the 0.2 miles to the campsite.

Shanty Cliff Photo by Bill Ingersoll

Shanty Cliff
Photo by Bill Ingersoll

From the parking area along NY 8—an area that shows on an 1858 map as the T. Cook farm—find the driveway leading northwest into the woods. It crosses Martha Brook at 0.2 miles, and then sets off upstream on a course that is parallel to the river. It passes an exposed ledge at 0.5 miles, where the river is pinched between rock walls below, and then embarks on an uphill detour around a steep and rugged part of the gorge.

The last 0.2 miles is a gentle walk through mixed woods. At 1.1 miles, the trail curves toward the river and ends atop the Square Falls ledge. While poison ivy does occur in clusters elsewhere in the gorge, it seems to be absent here; instead, look for Canadian burnet on the nearby ledges.

As for the upper waterfall that some people claim might be the true Square Falls, you will need to bushwhack about 0.6 miles upstream to see for yourself. There is a similarity in appearance, so I suggest that it be called Upper Square Falls. The woods between the lower and upper cascades generally provide for good off-trail hiking, with only a few pockets of thick hobblebush and undergrowth.

Shanty Cliffs
As rock climbers have extended their range beyond the High Peaks region—using, I have been told, earlier editions of the Discover guidebooks to find the cliffs that Barbara McMartin knew—they have also cut informal trails to places that were pure bushwhack routes just a few years ago. One such site is the small mountain near the mouth of Shanty Brook that Barbara called the Shanty Cliffs. The chief feature of this impressive peak is its enormous dike, a long cavity created by the erosion of a band of mineral within the surrounding anorthosite bedrock. While climbers are drawn to the foot of the cliffs, the rest of us will find their trail useful for reaching the outstanding vistas from the summit.

The key to finding this unmarked trail is the rutted driveway to the campsite beside the East Branch of the Sacandaga River, just north of Stewart Creek. If you ford the river here (it is relatively shallow, divided into two channels by a gravelly island), the path reveals itself on the opposite bank. It leads westward toward the foot of the mountain and then climbs through the dike. It favors the foot of the more vertical eastern wall, where most of the climbing routes are found. The path gains more than six hundred feet in elevation through the dike. At the dike’s end you can hook right to reach the top of the cliffs just below the 2,047-foot summit, 0.6 miles from the river (0.8 miles from the trailhead) and 670 feet above it. You may need to poke through the trees to find the best ledge, but there is plenty of open rock. Allow about forty-five minutes for the climb.

Only small fires had dotted the valley of the East Branch before the state acquired much of the land from the Morgan Lumber Company in 1896, but the Shanty Cliffs were certainly not spared in 1908 when isolated fires scorched large patches of forest throughout the Adirondacks. The combination of sheer rock and burned summit explains the extent of the views found here today, which include a vast territory to the south—particularly Georgia Mountain and the interior of the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest. It is still possible to find the remnants of charred stumps from the 1908 fire on these slopes.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Lambda Falls on Robbs Creek
Sometimes the most enigmatic paths lead into secluded areas that I might otherwise not think to visit. The trail along Robbs Creek is one such trail; it does not appear to be an old logging road, nor is it shown on old topographic maps. It passes through tax-sale lands acquired in the 1890s, coming to an end near an attractive little waterfall at the foot of the Big Range. While its provenance is not clear, this trail certainly means something to somebody—otherwise that anonymous caretaker would not be keeping it clear.

Robbs Creek Road ends 0.4 miles shy of the state land boundary, but an ATV trail continues where the road leaves off. It zigzags northeast through the last section of the Speculator Tree Farm Easement, ending where the Forest Preserve begins beside an unnamed tributary. A large, well-used campsite lies on the opposite bank of the stream.

Several trails radiate outward from this spot; the one that continues upstream along Robbs Creek forks to the right of the campsite, heading northeast. Like many paths, this one starts out strong but becomes increasingly faint with distance. One unique feature of this route is its frequent stream crossings, where it hops from one side of Robbs Creek to the other. The stream seems to get a little narrower with each crossing, but clearly this is a route that favors either low water levels or rubber boots. The forest is full of tall hardwoods, including numerous ash trees. I had the good fortune of finding an ovenbird nest hidden in the leaf litter while walking this trail.

At 2.2 miles, while the trail is on the west side of the creek, you enter a small clearing with a few odd bits of hardware lying around. Clearly a camp stood here in years gone by, though there are too few clues to judge what kind of camp. The final creek crossing at 2.5 miles comes at the foot of a little rocky gorge. Just beyond, the creek turns left away from the trail, spilling over a rock ledge into a little splash pool, but you will have to leave the path to get a clearer view. The water splits over the angled rock and forms an inverted V, with a total drop of about eight feet. The cascade has no official name, and convention would dictate that it be called Robbs Creek Falls. For the sake of toponymic originality, however, I suggest that Lambda Falls would be more appropriate in this case, based on the Greek letter that it resembles.

The path probably once continued even farther upstream, perhaps passing through the valley into the watershed of the Kunjamuk River, but modern maintenance seems to end right here.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

LAMBDA FALLS ON ROBBS CREEK:  The drive to this path may seem as adventurous as the hike itself. Begin on the ancient stretch of former state highway known as Old Route 8, which turns northeast off modern NY 8/30 at a junction about 3.1 miles east of the four corners in Speculator. Follow this paved-but-bumpy road to a junction with Robbs Creek Road 1.8 miles from the main highway. Robbs Creek Road is a gravel access road through the Speculator Tree Farm conservation easement. It crosses the bridge over its namesake creek at 1.0 miles and reaches a fork at 2.5 miles. Bear right and go 0.9 miles to the road’s end in a muddy clearing, 3.4 miles from Old Route 8. Ordinary cars can make the trip with care, but vehicles with high clearance and a sturdy suspension are recommended.

John Pond Ridge
John Pond is a small body of water with a lean-to that you can reach by a trail starting near Indian Lake. The state bought this land from Finch Pruyn in 1897, setting off an ownership dispute that took twenty-two years to resolve. It’s a fascinating story, and it explains the presence of the farmhouse foundations and cemetery that you pass on the way to John Pond. This was once the community of Little Canada; the residents were required to leave in 1914 when no one could prove they had bought their land from the logging company prior to the state’s purchase. The pastures were later planted with a variety of pine and spruce trees.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

The small mountain to the west of John Pond is a rocky spine with several open ledges. This is a fun mountain to scramble across because rather than just heading to a single lookout, John Pond Ridge offers a variety of perspectives on the surrounding landscape—but to see these views, you must bushwhack.

To begin this bushwhack, you first need to hike to John Pond along the state trail. Cross the outlet and immediately begin to climb southwest toward the ridge’s southernmost summit, nearest John Pond Brook, where an open ledge offers an outstanding view of the chimney on Chimney Mountain. This is the easiest viewpoint to reach from the lean-to; the distance is a mere 0.3 miles, and the vertical climb from the outlet is only about three hundred feet.

From here, head north to begin the traverse of the ridge. The middle summit is the rockiest, with multiple spines of knife-edge rocks crossing the ridgeline diagonally. You may feel like an ant crawling across the back of a sleeping stegosaurus. However, the views never seem to live up to their potential. There are frequent glimpses of John Pond about 370 feet below, as well as Peaked Mountain and some of the distant High Peaks, but no wide-open vistas.

The next good view occurs on the northernmost summit, near where it starts to hook east between John and Clear ponds. Look for a large patch of open rock with an outstanding view across John Pond, which lies nestled at the foot of Bullhead Mountain. The bald patch is quite extensive, and this may well be the most photogenic lookout on the mountain. The total distance between this vista and the southernmost knob is about 0.8 miles.

By this point you are closer to the trail to Clear Pond than you are to the trail through Little Canada, so unless you are camping at the John Pond lean-to it makes more sense to bushwhack north off the mountain toward the Clear Pond trail. The distance between the two trailheads on Starbuck Road is only 0.2 miles, making it easy to complete the loop with a single car.

JOHN POND RIDGE: Follow Big Brook Road southeast from Indian Lake to the junction with Starbuck Road at 3.4 miles. Turn left and follow Starbuck Road for one mile, where it comes to a T intersection. Turn right and follow the Starbuck Road to its end, 1.1 miles from Big Brook Road. In the summer, you can drive into state land an additional 0.1 miles to a small trailhead parking area. To follow the suggested bushwhack route up John Pond Ridge, you will first need to hike the 2.4-mile-long hiking trail, marked by blue disks, through Little Canada to John Pond.

 

Bill Ingersoll is the publisher of the Discover the Adirondacks series of guidebooks.

My location
Get Directions

October 02, 2014
Debar Mountain

After days of rain, a family beats the blahs by climbing Debar Mountain, a former fire-tower peak in the northern Adirondacks.

A red eft along the trail grabs Dominic’s full attention. Photo by Jack Ballard.

A red eft along the trail grabs Dominic’s full attention.
Photo by Jack Ballard.

By Lisa Densmore Ballard

SOME DAYS I need to go hiking. I don’t want an epic outing, just some time in the woods to clear my head, enough of a climb to exercise my body, and a decent view at the top to rejuvenate my spirit.

After five particularly soggy days, cooped up inside our smallish house on Chateaugay Lake with four antsy kids—Micah, age eighteen; Dominic and Parker, both sixteen; and Zoe, eleven—and my outdoorsy sweetheart Jack, I needed to climb a mountain before I climbed the walls. The whole family did! The weather forecast was still far from perfect, but when the deluge abated, I ordered everyone to put away Monopoly and put on their hiking boots. We were heading up Debar Mountain.

Named for John Debar, a Canadian fur trapper who traveled through the area in 1817, Debar Mountain had been on my sizable bucket list of hikes in the Adirondacks for a number of years. I checked off most of those hikes while researching my guidebook Hiking the Adirondacks but never made it up Debar. When selecting the peaks in the northern region of the Adirondack Park for my book, others nearby were bigger, balder, and/or more well-known. Debar would certainly have made the cut a half-century earlier when it still had a fire tower on its summit, but I was barely writing my ABC’s, not guidebooks, back then.

The author gazes down on Meacham Lake from the summit of Debar Mountain. Photo by Jack Ballard

The author gazes down on Meacham Lake from the summit of Debar Mountain.
Photo by Jack Ballard

The state closed the tower in 1970, then dismantled it in 1979, which removed the mountain from many peak-baggers’ to-do lists. Located outside of the High Peaks region and with a modest summit elevation of 3,305 feet, Debar Mountain now receives only occasional attention among visitors with a hankering for a hike. However, locals know it well. Traveling north on Route 30 between Paul Smiths and Malone, it’s a dominant massif, the highest point in the 122,100-acre Debar Mountain Wild Forest. Close to my Chateaugay home, the state-maintained route, a 7.4-miler out and back with 1,600 feet of elevation gain and the promise of at least a partial view from the former fire tower site, seemed like the perfect way to get a hiking fix.

The first half-mile of the route up the mountain follows the Debar Game Management Trail. During the 1930s, the state of New York tried to re-introduce elk to the Adirondacks. The elk were initially held in pens here and then released. They naturalized successfully but were extirpated within thirty years due to poaching. As we started down the trail, we didn’t see signs of elk, of course, but another ungulate, the ubiquitous white-tailed deer, had left numerous hoof prints on the flat woods road on which we walked. (A metal gate at the trailhead prevents ATVs and other motorized vehicles from traveling on it.)

My first impression of the level, smooth route was how lush the woods were. Fiddlehead fern, hobblebush, and a garden of wildflowers filled every inch of the forest floor under towering yellow birch. Finally unleashed from the house, the boys raced ahead while Jack, Zoe, and I took photos of lady-slippers and clintonia, but we caught up to them within minutes. As we rounded the bend, the three younger kids huddled together looking intently at something in Micah’s hand. Suddenly a spring peeper sprang from his palm, barely missing his nose in its leap for freedom. It would be the first of dozens of spring peepers that we spotted that day.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Looking for tiny toads quickly became trail entertainment until Dominic shouted, “Snake!”—causing us all to rush to his side to see this new discovery.

“It’s a cobra!” he declared. “Pick it up!”

Zoe, ever the cautious one, paused to consider her brother’s questionable snake ID, as the rest of us chuckled at his absurdity. The smallish garter snake didn’t wait around for affirmation of its not-so-deadly nature. It quickly slithered into the dense ground cover beside the trail, disappearing into the jumble of knee-high flora.

We continued up the trail as well, coming to a fork a few minutes later. The right fork continued to Debar Meadows along the game-management trail. We took the left fork on the Debar Mountain Trail. Deep in the woods, with the temperature a cool sixty degrees and after almost a week of rain, the air felt fresh, invigorating rather than heavy and humid. It energized the spring peepers too, which were now so plentiful that Jack suggested we rechristen the path “Toad Trail,” which immediately resulted in a chorus of other potential names, such as the Peeper Path and Frog Forest.

The route began to climb gently, becoming gradually rockier and crossing a number of streams. Soon the path resembled a streambed. After so much rain, water ran freely down the trail. Despite my Gore-Tex hiking shoes, my feet got wetter and wetter as I waded up the now-sodden footpath that served as a dirt access road years ago when a fire watcher was needed to man the former lookout. We found evidence of the road at an early stream crossing where the water once flowed under the trail through a twelve-inch culvert. Forest footpaths incorporate waterbars, bridges, and puncheon to help hikers over wet areas but rarely culverts. This particular one was clogged, diverting the stream down the trail.

“I’m going to fix that,” declared Jack, reaching inside the ancient pipe and pulling out a handful of leaves and sticks. His effort reopened the culvert but ultimately proved futile, as the trail seemed to get soggier the higher we climbed. Buggier, too.

My original plan was to hike three miles to a lone lean-to, have a late lunch, then continue to the summit. As with many routes previously unexplored, the path seemed to go on and on. What started as a new and interesting adventure was becoming a tedious toil up a veritable streambed through monotonous forest and increasingly tenacious black flies, a prospect from which teenagers quickly tire.

“How much farther?” asked Zoe.

“I bet there’s no lean-to,” stated Micah.

“My knee hurts,” declared Dom.

“I’m sick of these bugs,” said Parker.

When we reached the verge of a family mutiny, the trail crested a shoulder of the mountain, then dipped toward another stream. A few minutes later, we reached the lean-to and all was well again. No matter how many lean-tos one has visited, each newly discovered one is a curiosity. The kids forgot the bugs as they read the myriad of names scrawled on the log beams. They speculated on what it would be like to camp there and examined the area around the fire pit for clues of past visitors.

After loitering twenty minutes, we continued toward the summit. The last 0.7 miles felt vertical and was vastly more eroded than the first three miles. Two sets of rock steps aided the climb up a particularly steep section, the top of which marked a change of flora to lower boreal forest and offered a glimpse of Meacham Lake through the trees.

We climbed higher and higher and passed a recent slide. I speculated that the slide was a result of Tropical Storm Irene, which created dozens of new slides on slopes throughout the Adirondacks in August 2011.

Just as I wondered when we were going to reach the top, the trail eased, then flattened as we came to a large rock knob. We scrambled up the knob, finding the footings of the former fire tower and several steel loops embedded in the open rock, the former anchor points for the tower’s stabilizing cables. The living-room-size bald spot afforded a hazy view of Meacham Lake to the west, not a breathtaking vista, but a view nonetheless, and a nice spot for a snack and some water. We didn’t dally long. Soon the bugs found us, and the rain returned. We headed for home the way we had come.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines debar as “to bar from having or doing something; to preclude.” Thankfully, Debar Mountain lived up to its name, precluding my family from yet another day indoors. Later that week, a friend asked Dominic how he liked the hike.

“It was great!” he replied. He had forgotten his sore knee, his wet feet, and the bugs, confirming my theory. Sometimes a little time in the woods, a little gain in elevation, and a little view is enough to clear the head.

My location
Get Directions

October 01, 2014
Kushaqua Tract

A pedaling paradise

The author and her husband explore a maze of logging roads on the Kushaqua Tract open to mountain biking.

By Susan Bibeau

Jeff Oehler climbs one of the many logging roads in the Kushaqua Tract. Photo by Susan Bibeau

Jeff Oehler climbs one of the many logging roads in the Kushaqua Tract.
Photo by Susan Bibeau

Recently my husband Jeff and I rediscovered our love of mountain biking, and so after I surprised him with a brand-new bike this spring, we started looking for new places to explore.

We had already ridden the Kushaqua-Mud Pond Road, a long seasonal road that starts in Onchiota and stretches all the way to Loon Lake, with miles of beautiful riding. When a friend told us about the nearby Kushaqua Conservation Lands Easement Tract, we couldn’t wait to check it out.

The 18,989-acre Kushaqua Tract comprises land north and west of the hamlets of Onchiota and Loon Lake, a twenty-minute drive from our house in Saranac Lake. The land is owned by the Lyme Timber Company, but the state purchased a conservation easement with public recreation rights in 2004. It’s bordered on all sides by Forest Preserve in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest.

The tract has 130 miles of logging roads and trails open to the public. Where to start? A map on DEC’s website shows a spider web of unmarked roads. Undaunted, Jeff and I set out like Lewis and Clark on a series of expeditions to explore the area.

Of course, Lewis and Clark didn’t have mountain bikes. Nor did they have a GPS app—which allowed us to view satellite and topographical images of the terrain as well as the network of dirt roads. What the app does not reveal, we quickly found, is the condition of the roads.

The main roads are in great shape for riding, though I would recommend your bike have front suspension. The roads that have fallen into disuse are now no more than herd paths with shoulder-high grass and muddy swales. Many of these side roads are not rideable in the conventional sense, and we often found ourselves “bicycle bushwhacking.”

I am not a huge fan of bushwhacking, and I am even more loath to do it on my bike. Jeff, however, lives for it. On more than one of these rides he seemed to me like one of the early explorers, convinced that a through passage existed to the New World and determined to find it for the glory of God and country (and bicyclists).

Often we’d start down a maintained road that would inevitably get more overgrown. Eventually, we would dismount (sometimes inadvertently) and push our bikes through the tall grass or shin-deep muck. One misadventure led us into an impenetrable thicket of raspberry bushes as far as the eye could see.

“The satellite image shows that the road continues on the other side,” Jeff said.

Sue Bibeau pushes her bike through a thick patch of raspberry bushes. Photo by Jeff Oehler

Sue Bibeau pushes her bike through a thick patch of raspberry bushes.
Photo by Jeff Oehler

“If I didn’t love raspberries, you would be so dead right now,” I replied.

Although these rides were not my cup of tea, they had their own rewards. Deep in these remote woods we found abundant evidence of wildlife: tracks of turkey, coyote, deer, fox, bear, and moose.

On one outing we followed a pair of fresh moose and bear tracks running side by side down a muddy path for nearly a quarter-mile. On another day we spied a set of moose prints as big as dinner plates. Jeff put his foot next to one for scale, and I snapped a photo. I was both excited and anxious that we would encounter the beast and remained in a state of high alert for the rest of the ride. Though tough on the body, these outings left us in awe at just how wild and beautiful this area is.

A long loop

After many misadventures, we plotted a sixteen-and-a half mile loop that is the perfect combo of great scenery and rideable terrain.

Beavers have claimed a scenic spot on a small brook fed by the North Branch of the Saranac River. Photo by Susan Bibeau

Beavers have claimed a scenic spot on a small brook fed by the North Branch of the Saranac River.
Photo by Susan Bibeau

It begins near the headwaters of the North Branch of the Saranac River on North Branch Road. At the end of the public road is a parking area and register. A gate prevents visitors from driving beyond this point, but as you continue on your bike, stay alert for logging trucks. The road is sand and cobble, usually hard packed with occasional spots of washout. Follow this wide road for 1.5 miles until you come to a fork, then turn right onto Arden Hill Road.

DEC’s online maps give names for the roads, but this is the only one with a sign. (It’s also marked by an old painted lawn jockey.) Once you make the turn, the road changes to more of a sandy two-track, with some intermittent spots of loose cobble. Follow the road up a slight incline and down a short hill to a large clearing at 2.75 miles from the trailhead.

At the clearing, take the right fork in the road and continue up another hill where, at 3.1 miles, you come to another clearing with a large slash pile. The road forks again; stay right. At 3.5 miles, you cross a lovely stream and get your first good view of Loon Lake Mountain and its fire tower to the northeast.

From here the trail winds through a beautiful wooded valley beneath Loon Lake Mountain. As you continue riding, the views of the mountain get better and better, culminating in a gorgeous vista of rocky cliffs on the south face. The farther you venture, the wilder your surroundings become. At around 5.7 miles you will have ascended to the height of land at around 2,200 feet.

“Congratulations! You have climbed about five hundred feet,” Jeff teased me on one of our rides.

“And what goes up, must come down!” I reminded him.

The next two miles are an all-out downhill. My husband the daredevil loves this part of the ride, often boasting about his max speed.

“The GPS says I was going thirty-six miles per hour!” he told me.

“Does the GPS know how high our insurance deductible is?” I shot back.

The descent is not excessively steep, but it is pretty rocky and you will gain significant momentum if, like Jeffrey, you let it rip. Use your judgment.

The end of the downhill run takes you to a gate and a junction with a power-line trail near County Route 26. To continue on our loop, cross under the gate and take a right onto the power-line trail. If you’re feeling adventurous, though, you could make a left onto Route 26 and ride the paved road 1.7 miles to the Loon Lake Mountain trailhead (see sidebar on page 23).

A power-line trail that was once a railbed runs along the edge of the tract. Photo by Jeff Oehler

A power-line trail that was once a railbed runs along the edge of the tract.
Photo by Jeff Oehler

The power-line trail follows an old railroad bed that stretches from Lake Clear all the way to Plattsburgh. The trail is flat and scenic, another great place to ride. In just a half-mile, you come to another gate on the right.

At this point, you could continue straight on the trail, which eventually meets the Kushaqua-Mud Pond Road north of North Branch Road. Jeff and I prefer to turn right and duck under the gate. We then follow a road that is bit overgrown and narrow. After a rocky climb and a more gradual downhill, we come to the wide road we came in on. Turning left, we shortly reach the trailhead, completing the loop.

Moose tracks!!! Photo by Susan Bibeau

Moose tracks!!!
Photo by Susan Bibeau

At 16.4 miles, this ride is challenging but rewarding, and it offers an overview of the riding possibilities on the tract. My advice is to do some exploring on your own. Bring a compass or GPS app. You might end up bushwhacking a bit, but you won’t be disappointed. You might even see a moose!

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Kushaqua Tract: From the four-corners intersection in Bloomingdale, head northeast on State Street for 0.3 miles and bear right onto Oregon Plains Road. Go 5.5 miles to the Gabriels-Onchiota Road (County 30). Turn right and go 0.8 miles to the intersection with the Kushaqua-Mud Pond Road. Turn left and go 1.2 miles to the North Branch Road. Turn left and go another 0.8 miles until you come to a gate. The parking area and sign-in box are on the right.

Summit trail open to public

The Loon Lake Mountain fire tower is on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Lisa Godfrey

The Loon Lake Mountain fire tower is on the
National Register of Historic Places.
Photo by Lisa Godfrey

The 3,355-foot summit of Loon Lake Mountain offers a wonderful vista that includes the Kushaqua Tract. The 2.8-mile trail rises more than 1,600 feet from County Route 26 to the top of the mountain. From the open ledges, you can see countless other peaks, including Lyon Mountain to the northeast, Whiteface Mountain to the southeast, and Debar Mountain to the northwest. Before the state purchased conservation easements on the Kushaqua Tract, climbing Loon Lake Mountain was problematic. Even though the summit was in the Forest Preserve, most of the lower slopes were on private land owned by International Paper. Since the easement deal, the state has marked a trail to the summit.

Loon Lake Mountain has a thirty-five-foot fire tower, but it is not open to the public. The bottom set of stairs has been removed to discourage people from climbing to the cab. The tower was originally erected in 1917. It was rebuilt in 1928 after being blown over by strong winds in the winter of 1927-28. The structure is on the New York State Register of Historic Places.

DIRECTIONS: From NY 3 between Bloomingdale and Clayburg, turn northwest onto County 26. Go 7.9 miles to a parking area on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My location
Get Directions